How can I convince my wife to come to marriage counselling sessions with me?
May 21, 2012 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to convince my wife to attend marriage counselling with me, but I'm having a hard time doing so. Her opinion of marriage counselling (based on what she's read online) is that it's a waste of money and that a marriage counsellor would "only tell us what we already know." When I've pointed out that a marriage counsellor is there to help facilitate communication, her response has been "if we need a facilitator to help us communicate we're fucked anyway." Reasons for needing counselling + bonus snowflakery inside. Apologies; it turned into a bit of a mind-dumpy wall of text.

We've been married for 3 years and a couple for more than a decade (we were high school sweethearts). For a long time, probably as long as I can remember, we've had communication problems of one sort or another. This has varied from straightforward but common misunderstandings (she says "will you vacuum the lounge," at 9pm, I hear "... tomorrow," she means "... right now.", that sort of thing) to outright being-unable-to-express-how-we-feel-without-an-argument-happening. Recently, we're swinging back towards the latter, due initially (as far as I can tell) to work-related stress on her side, but now also because I feel like I'm not being listened to very closely.

There seems to be a mismatch of communication: I listen a great deal (have always been a good listener) but rarely talk about my day. I have noticed that I have a tendency now to not talk about my day at all, or to brush it away with "oh, the usual" because my wife will frequently interrupt with stories from _her_ day (which, to be fair, are generally more interesting).

We had a serious rough patch about eight years ago. At the time, I shared my problems with friends online (working from home means that most of my friendships are virtual for much of the year). My wife found out after reading my email one day, and an almighty argument blew up. It became clear to me then that sharing our relationship woes with friends was a surefire way to make them worse, so I work very hard to keep them to myself, even though my friends know me well enough to know that all is not rosy. This means that I very much need to communicate clearly with my wife, which right now isn't happening.

I have always been absolutely faithful to my wife, and although I've had offers from others I've always been very clear (though polite) in turning them down. My wife is convinced, however, that one day I'm going to realise that she's a terrible wife and leave her. I have always tried to reassure her on this point, but have recently found myself developing feelings for one of my close friends. Since I'm aware that this is just grass-is-greener syndrome I've told my friend that I need some space to be able to deal with it rather than putting myself in a situation where I might do something stupid, but it still disturbs me.

I genuinely love my wife and want us to work this out, but at the same time I'm starting to wonder if the love hasn't become merely a platonic one. We haven't had penetrative sex in a long time (~10 months, more-or-less) and there seems to be very little desire from her for us to do so. This has mostly been to do with exhaustion from work, or hormonal contraceptive issues, but things have been in this state, on and off, for the last 3 years. Most sexual contact is of the form of me bringing her off with my hands or toys; she loses interest in sex after having an orgasm and in addition has massive confidence issues in her own abilities, which make it hard for her to get through giving me any kind of manual stimulation without stopping and asking "are you sure this is good?" even though I go out of my way to reassure her. If anything, she seems annoyed by how long it takes me to come.

You can see, then, friends, that we've got some issues to work through. I dearly, dearly want us to. But I'm becoming convinced that with all the baggage we have, we need some outside help in order to do so. I want to be able to show my wife that going to a therapist will not be a waste of time and money, but I'm not sure how. I don't want to be the guy that dragged his wife to somewhere she didn't want to be just for the sake of trying to make things work (if anything, surely, that would make things even worse).

Does anyone have any tips about how I could handle this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It really doesn't sound like she's going to go to therapy with you and you really can't make her.

I would suggest you go to therapy yourself and work out whether you're in love with your wife as a friend or as a partner and go from there. Just because you're in a partnership, doesn't mean that you should stop thinking of yourself as an individual. But your therapist should also be able to give you methods to try to use to help yourself be heard more by your wife and help your communication in that respect. But I really think you need to do it independently.
posted by mleigh at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

You may benefit from therapy, even without her. Invite her, every time, but go for yourself.

If she goes, she may find that it is helpful. If she sees you being helped from it, she may be more likely to go.

Good luck.
posted by China Grover at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

What would she say about seeing a counselor herself? It seems like there's a good chance that behind the communication problems/intimacy disconnect that's legitimately there between the two of you, she might have some deeper issues of depression, self-esteem, etc. to work out. Maybe that's part of her resistance (whether consciously or not) to both of you seeing someone together -- she may need the space to work out her individual issues before she can feel she can safely address your shared issues.

Also, there's nothing to stop you from seeing a counselor yourself. (I don't say that flippantly, or because I think you're "the problem" here -- just that you have a lot on your plate, emotionally, that's certainly hard to work through as well, and you're just as deserving of a safe space as she is.) I would also say that it raises a pretty big red flag to me that she read your email and blew up at you for sharing personal relationship issues with your friends -- and then the conclusion/solution you both apparently seem to have drawn is that you're supposed to simply feel unhappy in isolation, without anyone to share your feelings and concerns with. There seems to be a problem with privacy and boundaries here.

This sounds like an unhappy situation and that you are trying your very best to be mindful and considerate of her needs and feelings. And while her feelings and needs are certainly important, yours are every bit as important. If she won't join you in addressing them, I think the healthy thing to do is to address them on your own.

I wish you both the best.

That's right, you could go to individual therapy and ask this question privately, rather than posting it on the 'net where anyone with google can find it.

The question is anonymous and there's no identifying info, as far as I can tell. There is absolutely no call for berating the OP like this.
posted by scody at 4:28 PM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

[Folks, give us a chance to see an delete problematic comments before you go replying to them? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:35 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to go yourself even if she won't. But I also think you need to tell her you are not happy with status quo. I would ask her what she plans to do as part of her own effort in that regard.

Also maybe she should look for another job if work stress is affecting her to such an extent.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:37 PM on May 21, 2012

I agree with the responses that you should go to individual therapy for yourself. If you really believe that marital counseling is the only way to save your marriage, I don't really see many options for you when your wife doesn't want to go. Seems to be time to start working on yourself, and maybe that will give you tools that will help you to manage your relationship problems with her. But...

I dearly, dearly want us to.
Does she? What are her solutions for dealing with the problems and unhappiness in your marriage?
posted by sm1tten at 4:40 PM on May 21, 2012

"Are you happy?"

Ask her that. Let her think about it, but tell her that you expect an answer. If her answer is "Yes," then you need therapy yourself (and, as China Grover points out, she may see that there is a benefit for her to go if it's helping you). If her answer is "No," then ask her what you can do to help make her happy. Don't let her squirm out of it, or say generic things like "Be nicer" or even things that aren't really useful like "Help out around the house more." Have her give you concrete, achievable answers ("Tell me actual things about your day, every night" or "Do the laundry every day"), and once you've thought about those, come back to her and give her your opinion on them. If they make sense and you're willing to do them, tell her that.

Then say, "To make me happy, I would like for you to come with me to marriage counseling. Are you willing to do that?"

If she isn't willing to do that, then ask yourself whether you want to stay together with someone who isn't willing to let your happiness be a factor in her life.
posted by Etrigan at 4:56 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

"My wife is convinced, however, that one day I'm going to realise that she's a terrible wife and leave her."

This sounds like a moment of at least some kind of lucidity, maybe bring up therapy around these points?
posted by Blasdelb at 4:57 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, if talking about your problems with your friends was helpful to you, then individual counseling should be, too. But -- how would your wife feel about it? Would she feel betrayed or that her privacy was violated? I suspect she might.

Have you tried talking with her about your marital problems? What does she say? Does she agree there's a problem? How does she propose fixing things? Does she even want to try to make things work? You need to talk with her about this stuff. If she is not agreeable to any of this, I don't know, maybe you need to drag her there if at all possible even if she's not thrilled with the idea -- because you have problems.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:59 PM on May 21, 2012

You can't make her go. You can't fix this alone. So, you can either sit around watching your marriage disintegrate (which may take a long time, and may sometimes feel like you're doing the right thing, so there's that) or you can force forward progress in the only way you have at your disposal: making it clear that you're going to move forward based on what she's told you, unless she helps you understand why you shouldn't.

May I respectfully recommend this:

"I love you, and I want to make this marriage work, but I have told you that I'm concerned about communication, and that I want to get counseling to work through it. In response, you told me that you won't go to counseling, you consider it a waste of time, and that if we have communication problems then we're already fucked. As much as it hurts to say it, I have no desire to spend the rest of my life having communication problems with you, and having you refuse to participate in making things better. So you have a choice: either tell me that you want to work on this relationship, or tell me you don't. If you do, we can make a decision -- tonight -- on the first step we're going to take together to fix this, and if you don't, I'll initiate divorce proceedings so we can both move on."

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 5:01 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

What were some of the best times in your relationship? What has she most enjoyed doing together with you? Maybe if there is something you can do to rekindle happiness in your relationship it would put her in a more positive place to open up and talk about your issues.

Were the friends you were sharing with online other women? Or people she might not trust you sharing with for other reasons. Is she against you seeking any friendship/support outside the relationship?
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:08 PM on May 21, 2012

Everybody has a different tolerance level for what they will accept in a relationship, but there are two major red flags in your story:

1.) She read your email
2.) She is not working to help you have enjoyable sex with her

These are controlling behaviors. You deserve more consideration, love and care than that - because everybody does.

I am a stranger on the internet, but I don't think you are ready to address these with her yet. I am with the others that recommend individual therapy. You should get to the bottom of what you really, really want, and then work on how to communicate those desires to her.

Here is an exercise: Try writing a "Care and Feeding Manual" for yourself. What would be in it? What do you need from yourself, and from your wife, to feel happy and whole? If I were you, I would start there. Alone, or with a therapist, if you get blocked or fuzzy. Then think about how to ask for the things you are not getting from your wife.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:21 PM on May 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

So you've got communication problems, sexual problems, and a great deal (on her side from your description) of lack of trust. Why was she reading your email anyway? Is that normal for your relationship? Because that is crossing a boundary, and something I would consider controlling behavior.

As you describe it, this relationship doesn't seem to offer you much except not being single, for now. She sounds like she both wants out and is afraid to lose you. She may even think it's already over but is afraid to act on it.

But as everyone else pointed out, you can't sort this out for her. You can only decide what you will do. Go to counseling whether or not she goes. Figure out what you are going to do, and how. Make plans for what you will do if it works out (which requires her willingness to work on it with you) or if it doesn't (if she refuses to work on it anymore). And take it from there.
posted by emjaybee at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you go to therapy on your own and work on your own communication skills, you will be giving your wife different messages to respond to. Therefore her behavior will also change since she is responding to new sorts of behaviors from you. So yes, go to therapy without her. It will still be beneficial.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:29 PM on May 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

So your wife got upset that you talked to friends about your relationship, so you stopped talking to friends about your relationship.

And your wife doesn't seem to want to have sex, so you don't have sex.

And your wife fears that you are going to leave her, so you reassure her (but actually do have feelings elsewhere).

And your wife tells you what to do, and the communication issue is that you mis-hear her.

So with all of these things, you disagree with your wife .... but the way you describe it, you're not actually saying to her "hey, I actually *want* to talk to my friends and get some objective feedback from them!" or "hey, sex is really important to me so let's figure out how to make it a priority!" or "of course I don't want to leave you because I love you, but we have some communication issues that need work, so come to counseling with me!" or even "ok I'll vacuum in the morning!"

What do you want? What have you made clear to her that you want? What are your preferences, your dealbreakers? It sounds like you are letting your wife be the boss here, and you don't agree with the way she's running the show but you're not stepping up to run anything either.

You've framed this as your wife's issue(s) but I suspect your own communication style (maybe a conflict-avoider?) is playing a significant role here.
posted by headnsouth at 5:52 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Well, maybe you have communication problems, maybe not. It's hard to pick apart what's going on here without more information about how you listen and how you talk to her.

My main hit from your post is that your wife is communicating to you that she does not or may not want to be with you, but is leaving it up to you to make the decision about what to do about the marriage. That sucks.

Sorry. I hope I'm off.

This is how I translate: I don't respect your space and privacy. I am not willing respect your need to talk, period. I don't want to have sex with you (and am making up excuses about it) and don't want to work to figure out why or how to make this better for you. A counselor will only tell me what I already know...that we're fucked anyway because deep down I may not want to be with you. I think you're going to leave be because you're not happy and I'm not willing openly acknowledge that you're not happy/I'm not happy but I am not willing to do anything that will change that.

I really really don't say all this to be Little Miss Doom and Gloom, but communication is happening here. It's just sending a message that is tough to decipher because A. you really want things to work and B. for whatever reason, your wife has decided she does not want to be clear or kind in how she sends these messages.

Again. I'm sorry.

Sometimes therapy helps with true communication breakdowns, sometimes it helps couples get the root of why they're unhappy. Sometimes it helps people get clear on what they want and what to do about it.

So yes, talking to your own counselor sounds like a good idea. Good luck.
posted by space_cookie at 6:12 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

It doesn't sound like she's willing to contribute to the continuation of your marriage at all. It takes two people to make a marriage work, and if she's not willing to go to counseling when both of you know there are serious problems, it really makes me question her commitment.

I agree with other people that you're going to have to be the one to pull the plug here. This might be hard since it seem you (like me) aren't always a man of action when it comes to relationships, but man, this is a tough one to look at and think that things are going to get dramatically better.

I mean, are you really happy? No sex and she's paranoid about you leaving her? What are you getting out of this relationship? Don't stay with her out of a fear of being along. Do what you probably know is the right thing.
posted by Fister Roboto at 6:40 PM on May 21, 2012

You're the only one who seems willing to compromise here (no sex for three years, seriously? She reads your email and then blames YOU for it?!? She won't even go to a therapist for you?!?!!)

I don't want to sound mean, but consider DTMFA.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:52 AM on May 22, 2012

1. Start going to therapy on your own.

2. Broaden your social circle. Online friends are not enough. It puts your wife in the position of being the person that sees to all of your needs. It's like when a new mom is staying home all day with the baby and then her husband comes home and she suffocates him with all her attention- all he wants is to relax.

You cannot be her everything and she should not be your everything. It's too much pressure.

Basically, it sounds like you both need a little time apart to miss one another. Plan a nice weekend get away for 2 months from now and then spend the next two months away from each other as much as possible. You hang with the guys and she hangs with the girls. If you don't have guys to hang with, start playing a sport or drinking at a bar. If she doesn't have girls to hang with, then, you have a huge problem. Don't 'discuss' this. Tell her nicely, in a positive way, with as few words as possible, that you are trying something new. Keep from throwing in any emotional baggage. Leave old fights out of it.

You can't make someone love you the way you want to be loved, you can learn to see the love that they give and accept it in the form that they are most comfortable giving it.
posted by myselfasme at 7:35 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

if we need a facilitator to help us communicate we're fucked anyway

Well, I'm not sure if anecdata from strangers on the internet will help your case at all, but for what it's worth I can say from personal experience that this statement is false.

My wife and I went to exactly one session of couples therapy, and it was no fun at all, and we learned some communication techniques that felt impossibly awkward and stupid and childish, and it turned out that they actually worked and we still use them to this day.

So there's that.

Alternatively, you could ask her if she has a better idea than therapy, because what you're doing now (nothing) is clearly not solving your problems.
posted by ook at 12:22 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Emphatically seconding ook re "if we need a facilitator to help us communicate we're fucked anyway".

Life would be so much easy if we could rid the world of the notion that "communicating" is something humans do naturally, rather than a consciously acquired skill. We bring a boatload of unspoken (and often unconscious) assumptions into every conversation, for examples, see:

The frequently cited "ask vs guess culture".

Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. More than 20+ years old, but I haven't noticed a huge cultural shift/improvement regarding the subject.

NYT article regarding the theory that people "argue to win" rather than to find the truth.

Perhaps your SO would be more open to counseling if she understood that a major part of therapy is learning to recognize and work around those assumptions.

Disclosure: I am not a therapist, but I've been through oh-so-many hours of couples therapy. Still got divorced, but at least we came to a better understanding of the issues that tanked the (probably doomed, anyway) marriage. Regarding post-divorce dating, all things being equal, I would prefer a divorced man who had been through couple therapy over a widower who lost his wife after many years of happy marriage.
posted by she's not there at 12:34 PM on May 22, 2012

« Older ERR_EMPTY_RESPONSE   |   Movin' on up and out Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.